Business of Football: Will jail term damage Lionel Messi's brand worth?
The shocking news that world superstar Leo Messi was being punished with a fine and 21 months of jail time (even though he will never see a jail cell) has to have been one of the major sports-related stories of the year.
A player much loved not just for his technical abilities and astonishing goal-scoring feats have always been held aloft as a shining example of how a sportsman should carry himself on and off the pitch. When compared with his rival Ronaldo, I often hear people talk about how Messi is the better player but when you dig deeper it is his softer image and shyness that comes across as some of the more endearing features.
It will be interesting to see how this financial debacle will impact his status in the sporting world and as importantly amongst his fan base - as that can directly impact his ability to commercialise his image. My gut says that once the next story comes along this will become nothing much more than a footnote in his career but he does need to be careful.
The guys over at BrandTix have already seen some fascinating data coming through. The first is that this is a truly global story. The countries where this features the highest includes USA, Nigeria, Indonesia, England and India - remarkable because you would have assumed that Spain and Argentina would have featured more heavily.
Most troublesome for Messi and his father has to be that 90 percent of all traffic at the moment is negative as his global fan base share the story amongst their friends and followers. Whilst there isn't the vitriol that accompanied stories such as that on Ched Evans or Adam Johnson it's clear Messi hasn't gotten away unscathed.
What will be interesting will be to see how he bounces back in the new season. If he starts well and is scoring freely will his value bounce back (BrandTix estimates that his brand value has declined 10% in the past 24hours – which is significant). Come September he may well be back to where he was only a few days ago but coming on the heels of international retirement and losing the Copa Final this might not be the time for him to sign any endorsements.
Separately, this should act as a warning to all athletes and sportsmen/women around the world that with their incomes often as high as they are they need to be aware they will not be immune to the authorities and need to be careful with whom they entrust their reputations and finances. If you want a look behind the scenes go watch the ESPN 30 for 30 entitled 'Broke' it will be illuminating.